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4 Skills I Need to Improve to Be Competitive in the Music Business

I recently relocated to LA and started taking on more tracking work and production gigs. In the process, I’m quickly realizing I have a lot to learn!

People often say that success is a matter of luck or being in the right place at the right time. Usually the people who say that aren’t particularly successful (oops).

In reality, success is where preparation meets opportunity. It’s pretty simple to surmise that we perpetuate success by being as prepared as possible while also pursuing as many opportunities as we can.

I moved to LA to increase my potential opportunities. Now, I have to increase how prepared I am for them.

So here’s what I feel I need to learn.

1. Playing Multiple Instruments

A great producer can play several instruments well enough to appear on a record. For me, I’ll be brushing up on my bass, learning guitar and re-learning piano.

The reality is, not every budget warrants hiring session players for every part. Sometimes time doesn’t allow for it either. Sometimes you get an idea and just want to knock it out. It also doesn’t hurt to have an idea of how instruments functionally work.

When there’s a part missing from a record, I want to be able to lay it down and get it done.

2. Setting up Guitars and Drums

Changing strings, setting up drums, tuning both—these are good to know how to do as a tracking engineer.

Tracking is all about being able to do things on the fly, and get sessions moving so the creativity can flow freely.

A lot of behind-the-scenes work can go into making a session move seamlessly, and nothing is worse than getting hung up on a technicality when the goal is to get ideas down.

3. Perfecting the DAW Chops

Hotkeys, record to playlist, loop record, on the fly edits, elastic audio and beat detective, song mapping, taking notes, region labeling—there’s a great deal of work that goes into keeping a session organized and clean while simultaneously giving an artist seamless transitions from one take to the next.

A punch should be ready to go as fast as a head nod, because great tracking engineers know that the number one priority is never breaking an artist’s zone.

Fortunately, I’m pretty good at this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, the people I’m being measured against are really good at this stuff.

My session skills are going to be compared to some of thee best recordists in the world—so not only do my recording techniques need to be flawless, but my DAW chops need to be super-on-point as well.

4. Networking

I’m not a socialite. I’m comfortable in one-on-one interactions and small groups, but supremely uncomfortable in large social situations. I went to my first “Hollywood” party recently and it was painful.

I don’t dress trendy. I don’t act important. I’m usually fairly unkempt. If I’m here to make things happen, I need to be able to interact with people when there’s a million distractions. And I need to get more comfortable in a crowd. On occasion, some people might see my social awkwardness as endearing, but I don’t think that will be often enough to not merit getting over it.

Conclusion

The point of this article is twofold.

The first is that it’s cathartic. I have goals, and I’m outlining steps I need to take to meet those goals. Never hurts to write it out!

The second is that I want to impress upon you that music requires a great deal of dedication.

Top-tier producers and engineers fight tooth and nail to stay relevant. Mid-tier guys like me have to fight equally as hard to move up the ladder.

Being able to do what I specialize in, which is mixing, is really only a small part of the battle when I want to play ball with the top dogs. I hope that because I fully intend to achieve all of my aforementioned goals (by putting in a lot of work), you might feel inspired to do the same.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.

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  • Chris_Vandeviver

    Matt, I appreciate all of your points, especially the last one about networking. I’m right there in the same basket with you. Love meaningful one-on-one interactions. The idea of indulging egomania makes my skin crawl.

    There was an interesting New York Times article on examining the writer’s introversion as being just plain rude (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/opinion/sunday/am-i-introverted-or-just-rude.html?_r=0).

    However, does that mean we shouldn’t seek out genuine, non-Hollywood types? There are few stars, but many, many “regulars” to connect with.

    • Matthew Weiss

      I don’t think I suggested not seeking out genuine people.

    • Chris_Vandeviver

      You’re absolutely correct. Perhaps I honed in a bit too much on the “Hollywood party” aspect, and interpreted it as a required category.

    • Matthew Weiss

      yeah, I could see how that would be confusing given the category header.

  • Stan Halaby II

    In modern theater, they have the ‘actors’ and ‘techies’.. that is if budgets allow, if not, then you guessed it! Traveling theaters in history, circuses, etc., everyone did everything to get it done.. Budgets are budgets.. same same. 🙂 Good Article! 🙂

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